Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Dreamers

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
Penguin Random House: 1/15/19
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780812994162

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker is a very highly recommended unique, light science-fiction novel about a mysterious epidemic and a town placed under quarantine.

The mysterious sleeping illness began on a college campus in Santa Lora, an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California. A freshman girl returns early to her dorm room and stumbles right into bed. When she is still asleep the next morning, her roommate, Mei, thinks nothing of it and leaves for the day. When she is still asleep that evening, the paramedics are called and she is hospitalized. Then another victim falls into a deep sleep and can't be woken up. At first the remaining students from that floor at the residents' hall are quarantined. Then as the disease begins to spread more rapidly, the whole town is placed under an enforced quarantine.

The number of sleepers requiring care reaches 500 by 18th day. Most victims simply stay asleep, although some die. The dreamers must be cared for, which requires many medical professionals and volunteers. The victims seem to be actively dreaming, with increased brain activity, but why? From a few Dreamers who have woken up, we know they have vivid dreams that seem real. Some have lived whole lives, some feel no time has passed, others re-live memories, and some believe they have had premonitions of the future.

The narrative changes perspective from one character to the next as the story unfolds. The characters are handled with compassion and a nuance that ties them all together while they experience the fear of an unfathomable epidemic and have no way to escape. Some of the characters include: Mei, a college student who was an outsider; a survivalist father and his 12 and 11 year-old daughters; a couple with a newborn baby; a biology professor; a college student dreamer who is pregnant; and a neuropsychiatrist trapped in town. Their emotions and fears are handled realistically with empathy and mercy.

The Dreamers is simply exquisite. This is a skillfully written, breathtakingly beautiful novel that is also a page-turner, full of tension and uncertainty. I was glued to the pages and compulsively reading just one more chapter. The pacing is perfect and the transition between the diverse points-of-views keeps the suspense and tension rising as the narrative unfolds. Walker displays compassion to her characters as she follows their thoughts and actions while the unfathomable epidemic rages around them. I especially loved the details of the life beginning and developing in sleeping, but pregnant, Rebecca, and the resolution of this narrative thread.

I read and loved Karen Thompson Walker's The Age of Miracles and I think I love The Dreamers even more. This is a novel that could provide book clubs with an abundance of discussion topics.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.

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